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Scott Says It's Too Early To Confirm Abell Fire A Hate Crime, One Remains Hospitalized

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A Wednesday morning fire in Baltimore sent three people to the hospital, authorities said, but two of those victims have since been released.

While a Baltimore Police spokesperson initially said investigators believed the fire that damaged four homes in the 300 block of E. 31st Street was started when at least one Pride flag was set on fire, authorities now say there were two separate incidents on the same street in Abell.

The first was a home where a Pride flag was set on fire, police said. They said a home across the street with Pride decor was then set on fire, injuring three people.

During a news briefing, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison would only say the cause of the fire is still being investigated after it was initially reported police were looking into the incident as a possible hate crime. The motive remains unclear.

"This is an ongoing investigation to determine facts, to determine the cause, and right now, we're not prepared or equipped to determine cause or the facts of how it started," he said.

In an afternoon news release, Mayor Brandon Scott said it is too early to determine if the incident was a hate crime.

"[M]y agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event," he said. "Regardless, I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community."

The fire was reported about 4:30 a.m. in the 300 block of East 31st Street and the first unit arrived within seven minutes, Fire Chief Niles Ford said. He said the fire was contained by shortly before 5 a.m.

Three victims were taken to Shock Trauma for treatment. A 30-year-old woman and 57-year-old man were hospitalized in critical condition, and a 74-year-old man is in serious condition, Ford said.

The woman and one man were released Wednesday afternoon from the hospital, but one man remains hospitalized in stable condition.

"We pray for the three individuals that were hurt and seriously injured in this event, we pray for their health," said Ford. "It is terrible whenever we have fires. I'm very thankful for the job that our members did."

A police spokesperson said the fire is being treated as a case of malicious burning. Investigators from both the police and fire departments are getting assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, officials said.

"We're going to allow them time to do their work, as they always do in these instances, to make sure that we figure out what actually happened here so that we can move and accountability fashion at the best way possible," said Mayor Scott.

Two of the homes suffered significant damage in the fire, with one of them almost completely charred. Four homes on the block were damaged, Ford said.

Odette Ramos lives on the same block as the fire and represents the area on the city council. 

She told WJZ there were two other fires nearby Wednesday morning—just across Greenmount Avenue in Better Waverly. They include a dumpster fire and a car fire. Ramos said it is unclear whether any of the fires are connected but that they were all "intentionally set."

"We know that similar events have happened across the nation, and so that I think that amplifies the concern," she said. "Until we get a 'for sure,' we'll see. I know all the resources that the city and federal government has brought to bear. We'll find out what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Many neighbors are rattled. 

"I think hate has been unleashed in this country and people have been emboldened to act on their hate," said longtime resident Ralph Moore. "We're in a very sad and serious time in this country, and we've all got to watch and be careful and we've got to resist this ugliness and hatred as much as we can."

Another neighbor, Vonnie, asked WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren not to use her last name out of safety concerns. She said she knows two of the injured victims. 

"For god sake leave people alone. Just leave people alone. You don't know how many people have been affected by this…This is a close-knit community and we will come through this and we will help each other out," Vonnie said. "People are just trying to live their lives, and this is a place where people are comfortable. That's part of what's so shocking is like, 'What!' I mean people hang all kinds of flags out. We're all just trying to help."

The mayor called on residents to share any information, such as doorbell camera footage, they might have with authorities.

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